NORTH and South Korea had not spoken to one another in almost two years. In fact, southern officials had been attempting to use the hotline between the two governments regularly, but the North had refused to pick up. In the end, however, it took just 11 hours of face-to-face discussion, on January 9th, for the two sides to agree that the North would participate in the winter Olympics next month, which South Korea is hosting in Pyeongchang, a district just 50 miles from the heavily fortified border between the two.

The North agreed to send athletes, officials, reporters and a cheerleading squad. The pair even discussed the idea of their teams parading together at the opening ceremony. They resolved to reopen a second hotline on the west coast to discuss military matters, and will meet again for talks, possibly to discuss reducing tensions along the border. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, even held out the prospect of a summit with Kim Jong Un, the dictator who runs North Korea.

Yet few in South Korea and beyond are setting much store by the detente. North Korea’s overtures are tactical, reckons Robert Kelly, of Pusan National University in South Korea. Aside from reducing tensions, he says, the aim is probably to drive a wedge between South Korea, its ally America and its neighbour Japan, both of which reckon now is the time to raise pressure on the North, not reduce it. The North may also hope to secure a relaxation of increasingly harsh UN sanctions.

Taking part in cultural activities such as the Olympics costs North Korea nothing, but gives it a sheen of respectability. (It has taken part in many sporting events, including the Asian Athletics Championships in 2005, which Ri Sol Ju, now Mr Kim’s wife, attended as a cheerleader.) In the same way, allowing reunions of families split between the two countries, which the South proposed, would be a “pseudo-concession for the North Korean side”, says Mr Kelly, who points out that South Korea typically pays for these get-togethers.

On more important issues, the North appears predictably recalcitrant. It vehemently rejected South Korea’s suggestion that they should resume negotiations over an end to the North’s nuclear programme. Mr Kim’s regime appears to see the weapons as a guarantee of its survival, and so is unlikely to give them up. Even as he first made overtures to the South in his new year’s speech, Mr Kim reiterated the “reality” that North Korea is a nuclear state and will “mass-produce” nuclear weapons.

Observers note that the North rarely acts in good faith. It has reneged on previous agreements and tends to talk when it needs money. Joongang Ilbo, a centre-right South Korean daily, warned the government not to “get drunk on the conversational mood” and forget that denuclearisation is the only way to long-term peace. Rex Tillerson, America’s secretary of state, has said much the same. Many observers assume that the North merely plans to string South Korea along while it perfects its nuclear arsenal.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s administration, initially cool about the prospect of North-South talks, has endorsed them (although it has warned Mr Moon against appeasing the North). America has agreed to postpone regular joint military exercises with South Korea until the games conclude. This is a striking shift of tone for Mr Trump, who recently boasted on Twitter of having a bigger and better nuclear button than Mr Kim.

In theory the next round of talks could get into issues that stop short of denuclearisation but reduce the chance of an accidental conflagration. South Korea is concerned to avoid flare-ups in the demilitarised zone, which separates the two countries. It could try to persuade the North to pick up the hotline more consistently when the South calls, or even to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities.

Ri Son Gwon, the head of the North’s delegation, joked that bilateral relations are “more frozen” than the winter weather. It was a rare example of a North Korean official telling the truth. Whether he repeats this remarkable feat during the talks remains to be seen.